Toronto International Film Festival Day 4
Posted 13 September 2017
has settled into its swing now and the hysteria of the opening weekend has
calmed somewhat and allowed for more considered viewings to take place today.
In line with the Showroom's F-rating for films directed, written and starring
women there is a plethora of candidates at this year's TIFF, and one of them is
the first film that has really struck a chord with me so far.
though, British director Susanna White's Woman
Walks Ahead, the story of Catherine Weldon, a woman ahead of her time in
the 1870s who, after the death of her oppressive husband, sets forth from New
York City to restart her career as an artist. Her intention is to record the
lives of the Lakota Sioux on canvas and specifically paint a portrait of their
great chief, Sitting Bull. Weldon is played by Jessica Chastain (who also stars
in Aaron Sorkin's directorial debut Molly's Game at the festival), possibly
one of Hollywood's best contemporary actors - she will become the Meryl Streep
of her generation. As one might expect, Waldron is subjected to a barrage of
sexist and racist insults (and worse) once she arrives at the Standing Rock
reservation, but they are stoically endured as she and Sitting Bull meet and
become ever closer whilst he poses for his portrait..
The film is in
constant danger of tipping into melodrama but the performance of Michael
Greyeyes as the Hunkpapa chief keeps things balanced. In short then an
inevitably worthy film that actually has striking resonance with current events
- Standing Rock reservation is today the
site of another standoff between the US government and the Sioux nation, this
time over a controversial oil pipeline development.
So, to my
first festival favourite is Lucrecia Martel's Zama. Martel is best known here for The Headless Woman and this new film is sure to seal her reputation
as one of the leading directors in world cinema. Zama is the story of Don Diego de Zama, a magistrate and government
flunkie in a god-forsaken South American colony of Spain in the 17th
century. Zama has been away from his home and family for years but is trapped
in a nightmarish bureaucracy as he attempts to request a transfer from the
filthy and squalid colony. His frustrating situation is Kafka-esque, made worse
by the fact that even requesting a transfer will take at least a year before
any answer might arrive back from Spain. Zama mentally, physically, and morally
decays before our eyes and endures insult and derision from Spaniards, slaves
and the indigenous natives. The final part of the film is an equally
nightmarish expedition into the jungle to hunt down a notorious bandit. This
section has a touch of Werner Herzog to it but Martel makes it her own vision
The film is
going to be a tough sell; its narrative is elliptical and characters'
motivations often obscure. Much of this is due to how alien the location and
the customs are to a modern audience, Martel forces us to look and listen
carefully in order to assimilate with the film's location and times and that
attention and concentration pays off. This is an extraordinary piece of cinema.